Things to Do in Toronto to Escape the Toronto International Film Festival

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Mark Ruffalo at TIFF, via L.A. Times

Toronto gets crazy when the Toronto International Film Festival rolls into town. Not only are some of the most Oscar-buzz worthy movies showing, but the entire town erupts into pandemonium. Movie stars, producers, directors, screenwriters, and journalists all float from movie to movie, restaurant to bar, and shop to gallery to soak in the madness. It can be both invigorating and suffocating. If one wants to take a break from his/her movie packed schedule and see this decidedly beautiful, posh, and metropolitan town they can do so rather easily, as the majority of things to see remain within walking distance from one another.

So if you have 24 hours to your self during the festival, you could do far worse than heading to these spots to take in some Toronto culture.

Shopping (Note: This guide is coming from a man’s perspective)

The general idea about Canadian cities is that Montreal is the cool one, Vancouver is the bohemian one, and Toronto is the fancy one. At least in Toronto’s case, that notion appears to be 100 percent true. Downtown Toronto is packed with high-end shopping, the best of which appears to be in the Yorkville neighborhood.

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image via Pinterest

The Club Monaco shop is something of an Americana-influenced art installation, with old photographs, antiques, and collectables strewn throughout the store. Aside from that, Club Monaco’s shirts are perfect, whether plain white or in print they can be work with a blazer, a suit, or flying solo. The prices are reasonable, but still expect to drop some money.

Anti-Hero is a cool little shop that is something of miniature version of New York City’s Atrium. For those that don’t understand that reference, that means high-quality and luxury streetwear. Brands included were Zegna, Y-3, Kenzo, and others. Even on sale these items get crazy expensive, but a Y-3 jacket will last you a lifetime and add instant flair to any outfit. Just go for it.

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Luma showcases the artisanal cuisine that Ontario is known for, and perhaps more appropriately is located right on King Street West, where the bulk of TIFF takes place. You can enjoy heavily flavored meats while watching movie stars and directors hit the town and red carpets. No matter how jaded you are you will find yourself thrilled and full.

Chef de Cuisine Michael Wilson has an extensive resume that covers a variety of cuisines, and the different influences have profound effect on the food. For salads, one should think simple here. The Luma Caesar Salad with its puffed wild rice, roasted garlic, escarole, and pancetta is so delightfully overwhelming in flavor that it’s easy to forget that you’re eating roughage. If you don’t think it’ll spoil your appetite, the truffle Parmesan fries are as delicious and gluttonous as you’d hope.

Sitting at the top of the menu is the seared scallops, and even at $30 they are worth eating. They have that perfect brown glaze that makes the texture moist and tender, exactly how you want those scallops to be eaten. The sides: curried cauliflower, kamut cashew pilaf, and raisin jam, are interesting, but perhaps a little underwhelming. But the scallops alone are worth the price.

Don’t skip dessert here. It’s the best part of the meal. Go with the steamed banana pudding. It comes with burnt marshmallow ice cream and everyone who took a bite ended up taking a second, and a third, until finally they succumbed and began digging in.


Toronto has a pretty great fine art scene, and numerous galleries litter the city with Canadian and international artists displayed. But because you will be strapped for time, try, and keep it to the smaller galleries. There are many.

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Izzy Gallery, located in the swanky aforementioned Yorkville area, showcases photography legends as well as more modern masters. During TIFF, the gallery showed Terry O’Neill, one of the world’s most collected photographers. O’Neill is famous for shooting famous people, very famous people, actually. Iconic, even. His pictures of celebrities like Mick Jagger and Amy Winehouse are evocative and chilling.

Mick Jagger by Terry O' Riley

While you’re there, the Mayberry Fine Art gallery is worth checking out too. Though they work mostly in appraising fine art for wealthy collectors, it has quite a few gems littered throughout its impressive two-floor space.

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Queen Street is the hip scene in Toronto, and as expected there are some great galleries displaying talented newcomers. Birch Contemporary on Tecumseh Street has great collections by gifted artists like abstract painter Richard Storms and minimalist sculptor Micah Lexier.

Where to Stay

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view from the Westin Harbour Castle
The Westin Harbour Castle is a AAA Four Diamond hotel located perfectly on Lake Ontario close to the TIFF festivities. The rooms are beautiful and equipped with wonderful views of the lake and the city, the staff is wonderfully attentive and friendly, and there is an indoor pool and an impressive hotel fitness center for those looking to stay in shape amidst the over-eating and binge drinking that often go hand-in-hand with film festivals.